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December 08, 1989 - Image 104

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-08

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Orthodox Dove Der'i
Is Enigmatic Israeli


Special to The Jewish News


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855-89 40



rye Der'i is an
enigma. The Or-
thodox Shas Party
leader was the first interior
minister to scrap the con-
troversial censorship of
plays — but he led the recent
battle against the Human
Rights Bill drafted by his
friend, Justice Minister Dan
He opposes the bill because
he believes it would make
religious legislation im-
possible; and yet he has done
more to block religious
legislation than most
secular politicians. The
ultra-Orthodox Sephardi
party which he founded
along with Rabbi Ovadia
Yosef ran TV propaganda
blasting "professors who
teach our boys that man
comes from apes" — and yet
Der'i is a reasonable man,
even an intellectual.
His party could give Labor
the government — but for
now, it probably won't. The
30-year-old Der'i explains
why: "Of course I'm not
satisfied with the pace of
progress, but I believe the
unity government has to
continue because there's no
alternative for peace under a
narrow coalition."
The model of the solution
that Der'i supports in theory
differs little from the Labor
Party's model of "territories
for peace." The theory was
advocated by Yosef on the
recent trip he and Der'i
made to Egypt, and then re-
peated before supporters at
home, albeit hesitatingly,
and with the caveat that
"it's not possible at pre-
Der'i refuses to reveal
what degree of self-
determination Shas will
tolerate. An independent
Palestinian state? "This
should be discussed later,"
he insists. "We must let the
process play itself out."
Despite his steadfast sup-
port for the Labor Party,
Der'i occasionally hints that
he would support a Likud
government after the next
elections —and that his posi-
tion has been coordinated
with the ultimate party au-
thority, Rabbi Yosef.
Der'i recently addressed
himself to his party's in-
ability to support Labor,
despite the chemistry bet-
ween the two parties'
leaders and ideological prox-

imity on the peace issue. The
party's supporters prefer a
Likud government.
Der'i believes that the
right-wing leanings of Shas'
constituency "have largely
been imposed by cir-
cumstances, and not very
deep," whereas their hatred
of Labor isn't that deep.
Why, indeed, is there a
Shas? Does Der'i really
believe that what Israel
needs is a crystallization of
ethnic divisions?
"This is exactly the kind of
thinking that led to the
problem Shas has to solve,"
Der'i answers. "The real in-
tention was not to mold peo-

"The people of
Israel are destined
to live as tribes."

ple into Israelis, but to
westernize the Sephardim.
Either way, one thing is cer-
tain: it didn't work. So our
path is now the only way.
"The people of Israel are
destined to live as tribes,"
Der'i continues. "But to live
together peacefully, we must
make the tribes feel equal to
each other. Having one seg-
ment of the population feel-
ing inferior will not lead to a
healthy situation.
"Shas has returned a mea-
sure of pride and self-
confidence to an entire
segnment of the population
that has, for whatever
reason, lost it since they
came to Israel. The attempt
to strip Sephardi im-
migrants of their culture
and their closeness to
religion and tradition has
left a void. The result is
undeniable, when you ex-
amine the prison population
in this country. We didn't
change this overnight, but
we have certainly con-
tributed to a positive
Der'i's personal history
goes a long way toward ex-
plaining why Shas' message
does not comprise the stan-
dard litany of persecution.
Arye-Mahlouf Der'i, born
30 years ago in Morocco, was
not part of the traumatic
North African immigration
wave of the 1950s. Arriving
in Israel only in 1969, Der'i
was spared much of the
humiliation experienced by
the earlier immigration.
Still, the family did lose
socio-economic status and
found its way to the poorer
quarters of Bat Yam and

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